Crate Diggin’: Songs: Ohia’s S/T (That’s Not Metal?!)
Jason Molina died from alcoholism in 2013 at the age of 39. His friend Henry Owings wrote that Molina “cashed out on Saturday night in Indianapolis with nothing but a cell phone in his pocket”.
You may see this as sad, romantic, or stupid, depending on your own perception, attitude, and knowledge of alcoholism and substance abuse. Self destruction is a theme often covered in heavy metal, but not always with the vivid realism of being presented with death in our lives. Jason Molina was a prolific artist in his life, and left the world a wealth of his distinctive blend of folk, country, and indie rock. He performed as Songs: Ohia, The Magnolia Electric Company, under his own name, and collaborated with artists in and around his native Ohio on his records and theirs. Interestingly, I learned Molina also played bass in various heavy metal bands before developing his own musical identity. I discovered him after his death and likely in accordance with it, as dying before your time often brings press and praise to the works an artist leaves behind. Crate Diggin’ has covered old (by my standard, 1999) metal, very rare and underground metal, and local metal to date. Let’s take a look and have a listen to a little known album outside the spectrum of metal which has shaped my listening habits from the first time I heard it.
They come in sorry for the second vanquisher to have so much to pretend
Themselves not so against though overtaken
This we’ll survive, surviving those
Against the smell of rope through pulley sing
There are fewer greater losses known
They have their affect they have their ransom
This will survive
– from “Cabwaylingo”, Songs: Ohia’s opening track.
Songs: Ohia was released in 1997. The album is almost solely anchored by Molina’s singing and guitar playing. He makes excellent use of a minimalist style here. Later Songs: Ohia albums would feature fuller instrumentation and guest players and singers; Songs: Ohia is credited to Molina as singer, player, and composer. Molina’s lyrics are poignant and haunting; sometimes straightforward, sometimes cryptic. For a slow, soft album the whole thing is surprisingly catchy. Everything works together to stick in your mind; at this point it’s impossible for me to listen to this album without loudly singing along to it. My only complaint is the dramatic increase in volume near the end of “Gualey Bridge.” It’s just too loud and doesn’t fit with the dynamics around it. Songs: Ohia benefits from a concise, 35-minute run time of 14 tracks. It’s easy to push play and listen to the whole thing at home or while taking a drive. I’m looking at you here, Michael Gira.
I’ve listened to this album at least 100 times from front to back and it remains my favorite Songs: Ohia record alongside The Magnolia Electric Company (perhaps his magnum opus).
Lately, and this is just me thinking out loud, I have found folk and dark folk like Songs: Ohia, Wovenhand, and Man’s Gin to be sort of like weirdo cousins to heavy metal. They’re both music for the weird kids, or adults as the case may be. Of course, Man’s Gin shares a member with USBM favorite Cobalt, Erik Wunder. It’s similar to how heavy metal and underground hip hop can be seen as distant kin. Both have obsessive fans that categorize numerous subgenres and memorize facts about the tiniest details in each respective genre.
If you aren’t bashing your skull into tiny fragments from Tyree’s latest grind find at the moment, check out Songs: Ohia and the rest of Molina’s work. His is an impressive legacy, and something worthwhile to sift through for those of us who discovered him after his time.